As events move toward Israel’s 50 years of occupation of Palestine next year, confidence in the Palestinian Authority is crumbling and the peace process is on a knife-edge, threatening to create a new generation of radicals unwilling to live through the current malaise and political vacuum, writes Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe in the West Bank, writes
There are questions about Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to keep his people united going forward and a leadership race is already underway to succeed him. But there is also frustration among the Palestinians themselves about why record number of illegal Israeli settlements shooting up are allowed continue and why the international community, particularly Europe, will not apply some type of sanctions on Israel.
Movement is growing to boycott Israeli goods and institutions. But EU members will not go there.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s minority coalition has pledged to recognise Palestine as an independent state during its term, as pledged in the programme for government. There is no timeline for this. Moreover, all this is playing out while the world awaits the outcome of the US elections, while postponed elections in the Palestinian territories remain in the air and as the so-called ’two-state solution’ hangs on on life-support.
The eyes of the internationally community currently watch Syria and developments there. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process though is a tinderbox waiting to explode, which has witnessed increased violence on either side last year and early this year. Random attacks on Israeli soldiers coupled with unprecedented Israeli settler encroachment have escalated tensions.
There is even talk of a more radical group than Hamas, who control Gaza, emerging if political progress is not made.
Palestinians want fresh talks, in a multi-lateral process that would not necessarily include the US, especially after failed efforts under secretary of state John Kerry and given Washington’s ties with Israel.
“They don’t want to be pushed into the prison room along with the prison guard,” EU sources in Jerusalem said this week.
President Abbas’ credibility though is on the line. This week, fresh clashes broke out across the West Bank over different factions in Fatah, his party, vying to succeed him.
International funding for the Palestinians has also halved from $1.2bn in 2011 to around $450m this year, mainly due to a decrease in US contributions.
There is criticism about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and increased commitment to helping settlers. This is particularly so in the West Bank, where settlements in what is known as Area C threaten to push Palestinian families out and create townships or what are being referred to as ’Bantustans’, which were forced on black communities in South Africa during apartheid.
Over 600,000 settlers now live in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Palestinians argue this could be higher and possibly over 730,000. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, which receives EU funding, estimates that Israel has over 47,000 new settlement units ready to build. Furthermore, at this rate, settler numbers could reach over 1 million by 2020, it says.
EU sources say the ’polarisation’ of Israelis and Palestinians around the old holy city in Jerusalem is “worse than ever” because of Israeli segregation and settlement activity. Whole tracts of the West Bank, including Bethlehem, could be cut off from Jerusalem because of new settlements. Furthermore, only five permits to build were granted to Palestinians in the West Bank last year.
Officially, EU officials support President Abbas and the two state solution. Privately though, officials acknowledge Mr Abbas’ credibility "is in doubt" among Palestinians themselves.
EU funds though continue to play a crucial part, in the development in the West Bank, the funding of the Palestinian Authority, while money also goes towards governance and civil society improvements. Over €300m is allocated this year. It increases to €1.2bn when contributions from individual member states are taken into account.
Some reconciliation though is needed before delayed elections can go ahead between Fatah and Hamas, the more radical Palestinians currently in control of Gaza.
Ireland currently funds around €10m towards the Palestinians annually and backs the two state solution. Ireland’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, Jonathan Conlon, took up his post in Ramallah in September and says “the situation at the moment is probably more difficult” than since the 1990s.
“Patience is running out here. Palestinians have waited for progress on the political track which has been a long time coming.
“What you see on the ground is an increasing level of frustration as a result of this.
“The frustration and lack of political progress, the frustration at the creation of new settlements on the ground, through confiscations, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian property which are taking place at record levels. This year already, the numbers exceed those for the full year last year and higher than any recent years.
Mr Conlon says support is still strong for President Abbas.
But he also added: “The voices are questioning if a two state solution can be achieved if the current trends continue or at least asking how Israel’s support for a two-state solution is reconcilable with their actions on the ground."
Much could change before next June, which will mark 50 years since Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Maybe nothing will. But Palestinians need a new beacon of hope and more importantly action to take them forward.